Editor’s note: Jim White is founding partner, qualitative research consultant, at marketing research firm Reality Check, St. Louis, Mo. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “How to apply human insights to market research.” 

If you work in consumer insights, you probably hear the word human a lot these days. Everybody seems to be talking about human insights. Whether this trend is driven by a backlash to the sterile, uninspiring nature of big data or a desire to get team members to connect more directly with consumers, I think it’s a good thing.But how do you apply human insights to your day-to-day research projects? How do you actually do human insights?Here’s a tip. Learn how to analyze stories. Humans make meaning of our experiences, filter our perceptions and create our sense of identity by telling ourselves stories. If you want to understand your consumers on a more human level, listen to their stories.Now, if you’re like most consumer insights managers or directors, you spend most of your time working on three types of projects:

The pathway to human understanding in each of these areas lies in knowing how to elicit and analyze human stories.

The best foundational research reveals unmet needs that brands can help people fulfill. And the most motivating needs are needs of identity. Psychologists tell us that as humans we construct our sense of identity by telling ourselves stories about who we are and who we aspire to be. They call this our narrative identity. It is through a story of our own making that we take the experiences of our lives and make meaning out of them.People use brands to help create their narrative identity. The most meaningful brands in our lives are the ones we use to tell ourselves stories about who we are. These brands become characters in the life stories we create.If you want foundational research that reveals the unmet needs and u...